You can tell I’ve got a new toy to play with – here’s a couple of videos I shot yesterday from the launch of Colchester Comedy Festival, featuring Anthony Roberts of Colchester Arts Centre and Miss High Leg Kick abseiling off the side of the Town Hall.


For more on the festival, see their website, Facebook or Twitter.

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In what is almost definitely an historical first, the Pope has taken an idea from a monarch of the Netherlands and announced that he’ll be resigning. Not because of any scandals, but because he believes that his age and health “are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

A thought that came to mind after Queen Beatrix had announced her abdication was that the Dutch appear to be very sensible on this issues. Both her mother and grandmother had abdicated when they felt they were too old to continue doing the role properly, and there doesn’t appear to have been any widespread objection in the Netherlands to her actions.

Obviously, the papacy is somewhat different, but it and monarchies share a similar function of being positions that were created as jobs for life when life tended to be a lot shorter than it is for many people in the 21st century. Even leaving aside the fact that the roles were much more dangerous to hold in the past – monarchs aren’t marching into battle and Popes aren’t waking up to find invading armies at the gates of Rome – it’s only historically recently that living well past your 70th birthday has become common, even in the aristocracy.

Given the level of medical care available to popes and monarchs, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that they’re living for a lot longer than they used to. However, will that extra longevity then create more situations like that of the Pope where he ends up feeling too old to continue in the role? And while the papacy has tended in recent centuries to be held solely by older men, will we come to a situation where being a monarch is seen as something a person does at the end of their life? While the Dutch seem to have perfect the sensible succession, how many other of Europe’s next monarchs are likely to come to the throne in their mid-40s and how many will find themselves at retirement age, still waiting for their turn?

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I wrote a while ago about the Council’s trees for years initiative, which was meant to happen this Saturday, the 2nd of February. However, because of the recent cold weather, it’s been necessary to delay this to allow the ground conditions to improve for moving the trees. It’s now scheduled to take place on Saturday 16th February, and all the details can be found by clicking here.

I’ve had several emails from people in Colchester about this issue. After discussing it with colleagues to get information, this is my understanding of what happens here:

The Night Shelter and the local churches have an emergency plan which is activated in severe weather conditions. I think the April Centre may also be involved. Anyone who wants a warm area to sleep in can have one. There are however some people who refuse this accommodation and prefer to sleep out for whatever reasons. The food distribution group also help to identify people who need accommodation.

There’s information here about what the Council has done in the past, and as this has been an area of concern for several people, I’ve asked the Council to update the website with the latest information to ensure people are aware. The Council also has general information on winter services as well as general information on homelessness and the Council’s housing services.

Update: I’ve been given the following information by CBC.

Our Customer Service and Housing Options team members continue to give practical advice to people facing homelessness to help them help themselves. We are tending to see over 1,000 people each month at the moment, advising them on their rights, helping them access our housing register, and giving in-depth assistance to secure accommodation.

Our Housing Options team work pro-actively to prevent homelessness in the first instance. This includes helping people secure private accommodation by helping them with deposits and rent-in-advance. During 2011-12 we successfully helped 256 households who were facing becoming homeless avoid doing so.

We offer emergency accommodation to some of the most vulnerable homeless people. We are currently spending approximately £5million to improve our temporary accommodation for homeless people, raising the standard of accommodation and ending the need for people to share facilities.

The Borough Council has a long record of assisting the most vulnerable, this year alone we have awarded £99,128 to voluntary sector organisations and charities to finance work with homeless people. This includes giving specialist advice, helping people sustain their tenancies, helping people navigate the benefits system, providing rent deposits, and includes providing accommodation.

Colchester Borough Council has a long history of providing funding for the borough’s emergency night-shelter. On top of the funding above, this year we have given a grant of £5,832 to the Night-shelter help fund their work.

Several charities and churches in Colchester organise the Winter Reserve Accommodation Project which provides extra emergency beds for homeless people during the coldest months of the year. This service has been organised this year and is currently open.

Colchester Borough Council was recently awarded £362,000 by central government to co-ordinate a new service for homeless people sleeping on the street, and to implement the ‘No Second Night Out’ initiative in Colchester and our neighbouring districts. We have just made a grant award to two specialist charities to provide this service which will commence shortly.

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I’ve received the following press release from Colchester Borough Council and Essex County Council, which I’m quoting in full here.

UPDATE ON TRAFFIC REGULATION ORDERS FOR COLCHESTER HIGH STREET
A way forward has been reached on the implementation of Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) to improve Colchester Town Centre.

Following a thorough review of the responses received during the public consultation held in spring 2012, experimental orders will now be introduced from Sunday 17 March 2013. Using an experimental order allows flexibility to react to any issues that arise following the introduction of the order.

The experimental orders incorporate changes to the original TROs advertised, following comments from residents, business, transport operators and user groups.

The main changes to town centre access will still relate to the High Street with access restrictions introduced on neighbouring streets including Head Street and North Hill. Access to the High Street for all cars and delivery vehicles will now only be restricted between 11am and 6pm, rather than the previously proposed 10am.

Access to the High Street for all will remain before 11am and after 6pm, seven days a week. More options for Blue Badge parking will be available where it is safe to do so at the eastern end of the High Street as loading restrictions will now only apply between Head Street and St Nicholas Street.

Licensed private hire vehicles will be added to the list of vehicles with full access to the High Street, supporting the range of sustainable travel options for journeys to the town.

Careful planning will minimise disruption for businesses and everyone accessing the town centre whilst on-street works take place. The new Town Centre access arrangements will be monitored for one year, if it is deemed successful then steps will be taken to make the scheme permanent.

The TROs are part of the Better Town Centre programme, a partnership project between Colchester Borough Council and Essex County Council, which aims to improve and prepare a rapidly growing Colchester for a positive and resilient future.

The improvements are designed to enhance the environment for shoppers, boosting the town’s vitality and economic prosperity. Air quality at key locations will also be improved, along with the reliability of public transport and the operation of the town’s new bus station in Osborne Street/ Stanwell Street. The changes will also support future planned transport projects, including Park and Ride in Colchester.

County Councillor Derrick Louis, Cabinet Member for Highways & Transportation said: “Following our review of the consultation responses, I am pleased that we will now be implementing these experimental orders. We are committed to working with our partners at Colchester Borough Council to deliver improvements that benefit all town centre users.”

Colchester Borough Council’s Portfolio Holder for Renaissance, Councillor Lyn Barton said: “The Council is pleased proposals to help reduce congestion and improve the environment will now be implemented.

“Having worked with Essex County Council to address the feedback from town centre users I am extremely pleased that access for blue badge holders and deliveries has now been changed to 11am. These revised plans will support the town’s new bus station and help deliver a better town centre for all.”

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In the category of ‘small, but annoying, errors’ we have this from the Guardian:

Obama will make history in another way on Monday, becoming the first US president to be sworn in four separate times.

THat should be ‘the first since Franklin Roosevelt’, of course, who got his four inaugurations the old-fashioned way by being elected four times.

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’m fast approaching the tenth anniversary of setting up this blog, and to mark that, I’ve been going through my old posts. It’s interesting looking back and seeing what was important back then – and how different blogging was back when it was all just fields round here, and there were none of your Twitters and Facebooks for sharing links.

Next week, I’m going to begin a series of posts looking back on my blog, but today I wanted to look back at an old post on British Spin I linked to in 2003. Specifically, this prediction:

There will be an major insurgent political movement in the UK within the next 10 years, and that it will organise, fundraise, evangelise and motivate through the internet.

There was lots of talk back then about how the internet was going to change everything about politics in Britain, but has it made any real difference. Sure, there are internet-driven campaign sites like 38 Degrees, but do they count as ‘a major insurgent political movement’ or just old-style lobbying and campaigning using new tricks?

The internet has made it much easier to swamp government departments, MPs’ offices and councils with letters and petitions, but has that made a difference, or just raised the bar on the amount of activism you need to generate to get noticed? Sure, anyone can keep a hashtag trending for a day or two, but has that fundamentally changed politics at all?

Still, the prediction was from June 2003, so there are five more months left for it to come true. But has the internet changed politics, or become just another tool for keeping it all the way it was?

(Note: I believe the blogger formerly knows as British Spin now blogs under their own name, but I can’t recall if that’s public knowledge, or if they want it to be – can anyone help out?)

Update: British Spin is now better known as Hopi Sen – I’m informed he doesn’t mind the link to his old identity being known.

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Jennie’s post on the Tour de France coming to Yorkshire reminded me of a Twitter conversation I had a while ago with Richard Gadsden where we discussed the possibility of creating a major women’s cycling race in Britain.

One of the reasons for the Tour de France coming here in 2014 is because cycling is one of the fastest-growing sports in Britain. Bike sales are up, viewing figures for cycling on TV are high and cycling events bring out huge crowds to watch, whether they’re in a velodrome or on the road. Obviously, the sponsors want to tap into that market and the way to do that is to bring major races here. The problem is that – in men’s racing at least – there’s very little space in the calendar to bring races here. Aside from Grand Tour starts (and don’t be surprised if the Giro D’Italia or the Vuelta a Espana starts in Edinburgh in 2015 or 2016), there’s no space on the World Tour calendar for a race in Britain, and the UCI seem keener to create new races outside of Europe anyway.

There will be the Ride London Classic next year, and the Tour of Britain continues to attract a good field of riders because of its proximity to the World Championships, but unless World Series Cycling actually comes to pass and Britain gets one of the ten races, then there’s very little chance of a regular major race here.

However, it’s a completely different story when we look at women’s professional cycling. As is the case in so many other sports, it’s the men’s version that gets all the coverage and the money, while the women get the few bits that are left over, and as we’ve seen recently, also suffer the cutbacks before the men do. Nicole Cooke has spent large parts of her career winning races in the same style Bradley Wiggins has managed this year (she was World and Olympic champion in 2008) but gets a fraction of the coverage (and the sponsorship) that he does.

What this means is that unlike men’s racing, there are nowhere near as many women’s races, and there’s a huge dearth of them at the top of the sport. There are a bunch of small races, and ones a handful of stages, but only recognised Grand Tour – the Giro Donne (Giro d’Italia Femminile), and even that isn’t certain for next year.

It seems to me that Britain would be a good place to hold a high-profile multi-stage race, and professional women’s cycling is in need of the same. Doesn’t it make sense for the two to come together? The Olympic crowds turned out just as heavily for the women’s road race as they did for the men’s and I believe that you could both get the crowds out for a women’s Tour of Britain as well as getting the media coverage for it. Because it would be pitched as a Grand Tour, and thus at the top of the field, it could feature a lot of the tough climbs that the men’s race avoids – why not have a stage or two in the Lakes, the Highlands or across the steepest part of the Pennines?

Britain has a long tradition of women cyclists who didn’t get anything like the same attention as the men. Jennie mentioned Beryl Burton and I’ve already talked about Nicole Cooke, but there are others like their fellow world champion Mandy Jones or Yvonne McGregor who never got the recognition they deserved. There’s a new crop of great young British women cyclists – Lizzie Armitstead, Laura Trott, Jo Rowsell, Dani King, Lucy Garner and others – who are desperately looking for the opportunities that are easily available for their male counterparts. Giving them a major race at home, with a home crowd cheering them on and a media that’s already shown lots of interest in them, could be just what we need to kick off a real step change in cycling and attitudes to women’s sport in Britain.

Of course, it’s easy for me to say what a good idea this is, as I’ve not got the money to invest in trying to make something like this happen (though it is on my list of ‘things to give money to’ if I ever have a EuroMillions win) but what would be the steps to make this happen? What sort of funding and backing would be needed, and where would it come from? The original Grand Tours and major cycle races came about mainly because newspapers wanted to make a name for themselves and generate exclusive content that their rivals wouldn’t have. One hundred years on, perhaps we should be looking to websites that want to make a name for themselves?

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Many people have asked for the waiting room at the new bus station to be open for longer hours, and I’m happy to report that after discussions with various people, we’ve been able to get them extended. The waiting room will now be open for these hours:

  • Monday to Saturday: 6am to 9pm
  • Sunday: 6am to 7pm
  • I hope that helps, especially so people can get out of the cold in the mornings and evening at this time of year!

    It’s amazing how far you can go with funny hair and the ability to say ‘cripes!’ isn’t it? For a start, you can get straight past the Telegraph sub-editors and fact-checkers and bring out this little nugget of non-information:

    a new building like the Shard needs four times as much juice as the entire town of Colchester

    Yes, that’s right. According to the Mayor of London, who’d you expect to know even a vague something about these things, the Shard – a building that will hold around 8,000 residents and workers when it’s full – needs four times as much power to run as Colchester – a town of 100,000+ inhabitants that includes one of the Army’s largest garrisons. Bur according to Boris, the Shard needs 4 times that much power, which means that every person who uses it would be using 50 times as much power as their equivalent here in Colchester.

    Somehow, unless the Shard was the winner of the little-publicised ‘build the least energy-efficient building in the history of humanity’ contest, this doesn’t seem very likely. Let’s see what Renzo Piano, the building’s architect, has to say about how much power it will use:

    “It’s a very old dream of mine, this idea of making a building like a little town,” Piano says. “So when people say, oh but it’s going to use up so much energy, it’s not true. An actual town of 8,000 people [the Shard's projected number of occupants] would use up five times as much energy. This is why the Shard is the shape it is. The higher up you go, so the functions change, and you need less floor space, until you get to the very top, and there I just wanted the building to kind of mingle in the air. It’s important that it breathes up there – that it breathes in the clouds.”

    So, Boris is not just wrong, he’s wrong by a factor of 250. Rather than use fifty times the power of the average Colcestrian, a person in the Shard will be using about one-fifth.

    Now, this might seem just like Boris getting his hyperbole wrong again and I shouldn’t worry about it because he’s got funny hair, but this non-factoid is in the first paragraph of his Telegraph piece for a reason. Because of the huge demand for power he says there’ll be from buildings like the Shard, we have to abandon all our scruples and join the fracking dash for gas. There’s no time to worry about the potential impacts of extracting shale gas – or even whether it’s techologically or economically viable – we have to be rushing to feed the beast of reckless consumption, even if it doesn’t actually exist.

    In his rush to grab evidence to try and bolster a weak argument, Boris has failed to notice that the Shard actually punctures it. Renzo Piano has designed a building that anticipates energy shortages by using less power, rather than cracking up the juice on everything and hoping that the payment cheque will clear before the building’s inundated by rising sea levels. Surely the Mayor of London should be trumpeting how forward-looking his city is to create such an efficient building, rather than making up figures to argue for pumping even more CO2 into the atmosphere?

    (Original links from Zelo Street, who also point out the flaws in the arguments Boris makes for shale gas and fracking)

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